Monday, October 9, 2017

Quid Pro Quo of Honesty

I unlocked my cycle and on my way out of the parking lot at Dwarka Sec-9 Metro Station, I handed the guy the parking receipt. He glimpsed it and said 5 rupees - that's the maximum you can charge a cycle for a day.

I said, "are you sure it's 5? I parked the cycle yesterday, not today." He fumbled with the ticket once again and scanned it with caution this time while smiling apologetically and thankfully at the same time.

He peered at the dark sky for few seconds, did some mental calculations and said, "13 rupees."
Why 13, I wondered. If he added Rs.5 for the previous day and Rs. 5 as night charges to the number he quoted the first time, he should have asked for Rs 15.

Under the assumption that it was a current day ticket, he wanted to maximize his profit by charging me the maximum (Rs 5) instead of minimum (Rs 3) but when he realized that I was willing to be chopped a bit more as per rules, he gave up his temptation to chop me illegally!

After this quid pro quo of honesty, I asked myself whether I would have done the same if the parking rates were, say, Rs 30/day along with night charges to the tunes of Rs 50?
Probably not.

As Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write in the introduction to their book Freakonomics, "incentives are the cornerstone of modern life." And although most of the people would strive to be honest even when nobody's watching over (at least 87% of the times, as one brilliant study illustrates in the book), you cannot slap tons of -ve incentives on people and yet expect them to be honest.

Exorbitant rate of tax, for instance, is one such -ve incentive. Have you checked the list of items attracting 28% GST? It’s mindbogglingly long. That being the case when around two dozen items have been recently shifted to 18% slab! With stuffs like Cement, Shampoo, commode, washbasin, Plastic and wooden furniture attracting the so called 'sin tax', who wouldn't like to cheat if opportunity exists?

In fact, it’s debatable that not paying this ridiculous tax would fall under tax evasion or civil disobedience. There’s a very thin line separating the two. A tax or for that matter any law or policy should respect the inherent desire in every human being to be reasonably honest most of the times rather than challenging him/her at every step - “let’s see if you can still be honest.”

Make no mistake, and here I quote another beautiful line from the book, "for every clever person (Arun Jaitley deludes himself to be one) who goes to the trouble of creating an incentive scheme, there is an army of people, clever or otherwise, who will inevitably spend even more time trying to beat it."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bhaang & BJP ( भांग और भाजपा )

I am not a big Bhaang (Hemp) Connoisseur. Truth be told, I have only tried it twice in my life. Once, many years ago, in a hostel in DU and the second time, this Holi, in JNU. You can appreciate my choice of venues. :D

Bhaang has its own ways of working. Initially all seems fine but after an hour or two, it hits you. In my case, it blurred my brains ability to make distinction between reality and illusion. For example, 10 minutes after talking with my friend over the phone, I wasn't sure whether I really talked with him. I had to pull out my phone and check the call-log to reassure myself that it wasn't a dream.

If Constitution were a person, I guess BJP is having a similar impact on him as Bhaang had on me!

The way this party is coming up with one gimmick after another, even Constitution must be thinking, "is this really happening with me or is it just a nightmare?"

Imagine, just 13 seats in pocket - 7 seats short of simple majority and 4 less than the single largest party - and they have formed the government in Goa! You can imagine what sort of 'negotiations' they must have indulged in with other MLAs to reach the magic number. Same story repeated in Manipur. True, who needs to have seats in pocket when you have Governors.

Before the recent trickeries in Goa and Manipur, they tried to dope the constitution last year in Uttrakhand and Arunachal Pradesh by imposing Presidents Rule on the pretext of some of the lousiest excuses. Thankfully, these attempts to 'stone' the Constitution were foiled by the Supreme Court of India.

But, Bakre ki ammi kab tak khair manayegi? Out of the frying pan of President's rule, into the fire of Money bill ! The constitution, sitting in the circular restaurant, categorically ordered 'ordinary' lassi but they tipped it with AADHAR - a very potent variety of Bhaang which enables the other person read everything in your mind.

On 8th November, they robbed the constitution and its family of 86% of its wealth in broad day light. Since the name was charming (although it started with 'demon') and most of the people were stoned, they didn't complain and the handful of those, who did, SC didn't listen.

With the constitution finally stoned, they are now after his family - the people of India. They are particularly after those who are not yet stoned. There is still not enough nationalism in their blood. They have been labelled as Anti-nationals. Since, they speak too much logic, logic has been renamed as 'Sedition'!

So successful they have been with this narrative, even the Supreme Court, the good old friend of the Constitution, has started doubting its family's patriotism. It now demands them to prove it by standing up motionless on 'Jan Gan Man'.

But I believe that Constitution is a strong guy. He won't remain stoned forever. But after recovering, maybe in a few years, he will certainly ask, "did it really happen?"